All right, class, come to order. Today's topic of discussion will be, "The Murder Mystery Considered as Slapstick Farce." What's that? Sounds unlikely? Then you're probably not familiar with the mysteries featuring Leonidas Witherall, a schoolmaster whose head bears an uncanny likeness to the classic busts and portraits of William Shakespeare. Witherall is the star of a series of novels written during the 1930s and 1940s by Phoebe Atwood Taylor, the creator of Asey Mayo. She wrote the Witherall novels as "Alice Tilton." And while there is a fair amount of slapstick humor in some of the Asey Mayo books, particularly the later ones in the series, they are pale indeed compared to the antics in a Leonidas Witherall mystery.
Take the goings-on in "The Iron Clew," which is the subject of our podcast review this week - you can listen to the entire review here. The plot is fairly typical: Witherall, the headmaster of a distinguished boys' school, is also the author of a string of popular adventure thrillers featuring one Lieutenant Haseltine. Witherall is usually engaged in writing another of these potboilers when his own life suddenly comes to resemble one of the Lieutenant's wilder plots.
This time, Witherall, writing at home, goes upstairs to change before going out to a formal dinner meeting. When he comes back downstairs, he finds that his house has been burgled, and a package stolen - a package which, as far as he knows, contains a valueless bank report. After some preliminary chases and shenanigans, Witherall goes off to that formal dinner only to find that his host has been murdered by someone who unkindly used a bust of Shakespeare as the traditional blunt instrument. And Witherall finds that he is the primary suspect.
And off we go for a night of lurching from narrow escape to narrow escape and cliffhanger to cliffhanger before Witherall is able to wrap things up, point out the real murderer - and emerge with a new plot for his next Haseltine novel.
Unrealistic? You bet. Funny? Hilarious. Would the Three Stooges have groaned at some of the artificial plot twists? Absolutely. But who cares? "The Iron Clew" is a great deal of fun, once you resolve to simply accept the plot as it comes and laugh your way to a solution. If enjoy the Asey Mayo stories, you may also like these much wilder adventures of this Shakespearean headmaster. Just please don't tug his beard.